Bus driver shortage impacts school transportation

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JOHNSTON, Iowa (KCCI) -- There are more than 7500 school bus drivers in Iowa, but trying to fill a job means offering higher wages, paid training and bonuses to keep drivers on the job.

A private company will take over Johnston's transportation system next year.

“Johnston, like many districts around Iowa and the nation, have driver shortages for at least a year,” said Laura Sprague with the Johnston School District

Sprague said Johnston decided to switch to private bus companies because they have better skills to find drivers.

“We're in the education business of educating students,” said Sprague. “Buses things with buses aren’t necessarily in our line of expertise.”

Chris Darling operates the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association -- a full-time job to help Iowa schools deal with driver shortages. Darling says license requirements, drug testing, split shifts and low pay contribute to the problem. And that's not all.

Until recently school districts hired farmers and college kids to drive school buses. Now corporate farms are keeping those farmers busy at work, and more college kids living off student loans may not need the job.

"So what we've got is that small group in the middle that they are full time people that need full time jobs,” said Darling. “They're not coming in for the part time job of a school bus driver.”

Darling is advising school districts to begin offering signing bonuses and bonuses for staying throughout the school year. That could be as much as $1000 per year per driver to keep them in the bus.

Experts say drivers must also have an almost perfect driving record and drug test record --- two things unlikely to change due to state law.